Behavioural, ecological, and evolutionary aspects of diversity in frog colour patterns

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Abstract

The role of colours and colour patterns in behavioural ecology has been extensively studied in a variety of contexts and taxa, while almost overlooked in many others. For decades anurans have been the focus of research on acoustic signalling due to the prominence of vocalisations in their communication. Much less attention has been paid to the enormous diversity of colours, colour patterns, and other types of putative visual signals exhibited by frogs. With the exception of some anecdotal observations and studies, the link between colour patterns and the behavioural and evolutionary ecology of anurans had not been addressed until approximately two decades ago. Since then, there has been ever-increasing interest in studying how colouration is tied to different aspects of frog behaviour, ecology and evolution. Here I review the literature on three different contexts in which frog colouration has been recently studied: predator–prey interactions, intraspecific communication, and habitat use; and I highlight those aspects that make frogs an excellent, yet understudied, group to examine the role of colour in the evolution of anti-predation strategies and animal communication systems. Further, I argue that in addition to natural-history observations, more experiments are needed in order to elucidate the functions of anuran colouration and the selective pressures involved in its diversity. To conclude, I encourage researchers to strengthen current experimental approaches, and suggest future directions that may broaden our current understanding of the adaptive value of anuran colour pattern diversity.

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